In Bruges

2008, Movie, R, 107 mins


Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s debut feature is little more than a shaggy-dog tale about two hit men killing time in the picturesque, medieval Belgian city of the title, goosed with crackling dialogue and generous dollops of gore.

It's just before Christmas, killers-for-hire Ken Cranham (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray Blakey (Colin Farrell) are fresh off a job in London, and their volatile boss, East-End thug Harry (Ralph Fiennes), has hustled them off to Bruges to lay low and await further orders. Ken, the older and more sanguine of the two, has learned to take things as they come while keeping his wits about him. If Harry wants them to sightsee by day and stay in at night awaiting his call, then that's the thing to do. Which is not to say he isn't wondering why they had to go all the way to Belgium just to cool their heels; he's been in the business long enough to suspect there's another job in the works. Young gun Ray, all urges and nerves, can't get past the fact that he's under house arrest in a waxwork museum lousy with fat American tourists; his mood vacillates between lager-lout agitation and weepy, even suicidal, remorse. Then he meets sly local beauty Chloe (Clemence Poesy), who's dealing drugs on the set of a pretentious art movie; Ray's out with her when Ken gets Harry's phone call, a minor tour de force of sputtering invective and quicksilver changes of tone. Ken's suspicions were right: There is a job, and it's Ray. Harry knows Ray didn't mean to kill a little boy while executing the priest (an uncredited Ciaran Hinds) Harry contracted for, but he did, and killing children, even accidentally, is something that can't be overlooked. Sentimental sociopath Harry sent them to Bruges, which he remembers fondly from a childhood vacation, because he wanted to do something nice for the lad before Ken killed him.

Like the short Six Shooter (2006), which also starred Gleeson and earned McDonagh an Academy Award, the film unfolds to the rhythms of a pub tale. It gets off to a larky start and gets wilder and more baroquely, bleakly funny as it ambles to its appointed end, animated by Gleeson and Farrell's bickering rapport and by Fiennes' performance as Harry, a quivering bale of suppressed rage barely held in check by a stilted code of honor. In the end, the film is a trifle, but a darkly entertaining one. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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